Some birth control raises risk of breast cancer, study says

07 December, 2017, 07:05 | Author: Sherman Richardson
  • Katherine Streeter for NPR

In a commentary accompanying the new study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, David J. Hunter, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of Oxford, said the new study did not find that any modern contraceptives were risk-free.

The data for the study was collected from 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade.

These results sound scary at first. Over the years, makers of birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy for women past menopause have reduced the amount of estrogen in their products.

Overall, the use of any hormone-based contraceptive for five years or more raised a woman's risk of breast cancer by 20 percent, Lina Morch of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. However, that number varied depending on how long women had used their particular method. "But it does show an increased risk, so for people who don't have a great reason for taking oral contraceptives, or are amenable to alternatives, perhaps they should think about it".

The researchers found a similarly increased breast cancer risk in birth control pills that only contain progestin, as well as in IUDs that release progestin.

Third-generation contraceptive pills are displayed on January 2, 2013, in Lille, in northern France.

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 6, 2017 (HealthDay News) - Newer versions of the birth control pill carry a similar increased risk of breast cancer as earlier ones that were abandoned in the 1990s, a new study reveals.

"It's a 20 percent increase in risk, but the absolute risk is very low", Dr. Joann Manson said. "That is not a huge risk increase", she told NBC News.

Breast cancer strikes about 255,000 USA women each year and kills about 41,000, according to the American Cancer Society. However, it was commonly thought that the newer low-dose estrogen options significantly decreased - or even eliminated - that risk.

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The increase in breast cancer cases associated with hormones was also small because young women are at low risk to begin with.

However, he noted, pretty much everything in life carries risks and women know that. "But we should make an individual assessment-doctor and a woman, together-to see what is the most appropriate thing for her to use". Unintended pregnancies cost the USA government $21 billion in 2010, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute.

Non-oral combined hormonal contraception options, including the patch and vaginal ring, reported a slightly lowered adjusted relative risk for breast cancer for recent and current users (0.85, 95% CI 0.21-3.41 and 0.97, 95% CI 0.62-1.50; respectively). "As with any medical intervention, hormonal contraception is associated with specific health risks".

However, hormonal birth control does lower the risk of other cancers, including ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer, and it may lower the risk of colon cancer.

Digging further, the researchers found no differences among types of birth control pills.

Use of oral contraceptives may increase risk of breast cancer, although the overall absolute increase for breast cancer cases was relatively small. Don't forget there is relative risk of death in pregnancy, too.

Women who stayed on hormones for 10 or more years experienced a 38 per cent increase in their relative risk of developing breast cancer, compared with nonusers. Any woman's risk of breast cancer goes up as she gets older.

In Denmark, older women who have completed their families are most likely to use IUDs, including those containing hormones, and they are already more likely to develop breast cancer because of their age, Mørch said. But he suggested doctors take time to discuss the pros and cons of different types of contraception with their patients, and that they be frank about the potential risks, suggesting women reassess hormone use as they age.

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